Ila Barker brings free music workshop series to the North End

#AIRSessions provides creative space for inner-city youth

Graphic provided by #AIRSessions

Free music workshop series #AIRSessions provides resources to inner-city youth aged 13-25.

Local singer, songwriter and music curator Ila Barker is the primary mentor for #AIRSessions. The workshop series began in early February and will feature new guest mentoring artists every month.

“#AIRSessions was my own brainchild,” said Barker.

This past summer, Barker approached the National Arts Centre (NAC) for support in creating a regular ongoing music workshop series.

Inspired by the NAC’s prioritization of Indigenous youth outreach and dissatisfied with one-off musical instruction programs, Barker decided to take matters into her own hands.

“I wanted to develop some sort of reoccurring, consistent, sustainable programming,” Barker added.

“It would have familiar faces, it would be in a targeted neighbourhood and would have an artist-in-residence feel.”

Barker emphasised the emotional connection and creative vulnerability that serialized lessons can establish, which she said she believes is a particularly important aspect of musical education.

“What was happening is that the youth that would come to the day program or the two-day long program, whatever it was, they were super-shy, a majority of them, and we would have a very hard time opening up with each other and getting to a place where we felt everyone is vulnerable enough to be creative and be able to do things like write music together,” said Barker.

“It’s a very intimate process, and I think you have to feel very comfortable in order to be open enough to expose that creative side of your being.”

After partnering with the NAC and local grocery chain Foodfare, the team ran a three-session pilot project at their sponsor location, the Indigenous Family Centre, in August.

“It’s really important for my teachings that I always provide a meal for my participants,” said Barker.

For Barker, #AIRSessions was above all a passion project.

“It’s something that came out of my heart because I really wanted to find a way to connect with, especially, our inner-city Indigenous youth, and find a way to help them have a space where they can feel more comfortable.”

Barker singled out a lesson more fundamental than musical scales or chord progressions that teens and young adults would take away from these sessions.

“It became very clear that there’s a lot of people that, they don’t necessarily see them having a future,” she said.

“They don’t see themselves as having a capability to be something when they age.

“And for one of my main goals [is] to make sure that these teens know, these young adults know that they have potential, they have exponential potential, they can reach that and they can be who they want to be,” said Barker.

Barker feels that artistry, and music in particular, is an essential medium for self-expression and a safe haven.

“Music really is a massive therapy tool,” she said.

“I think that’s what saved me growing up, and dealing with the trauma that I experienced, and music was the thing that was my outlet.”

Inspired not only by her own experiences with the industry, Barker is determined to usher in the next generation of artists, particularly Indigenous artists, who she believes will play a key role in paving the way for a better future.

“It’s part of my life purpose to help find and nurture those up-and-coming spirits.”


For more information, or to pre-register for future sessions, contact Ila Barker at